Babylon puts audiences right at the heart of early Hollywood as people from all walks of life try to make their dreams come true.
Shadow and Act’s managing editor Trey Mangum spoke to Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jovan Adepo and Li Jun Li about the film and what it was like getting into character, particularly characters who were marginalized.
“I think everyone… is pigeonholed for something, but when it comes to being pigeonholed for the color of your skin or your sexual preference or what you identify with, that’s a whole different thing and that hurts on a much deeper level,” Li, who portrayed Lady Fay Zhu, said. Her character is based on Asian-American actress Anna May Wong, and Li said that when doing research on her character, she learned more about Wong’s life and struggles, calling them “really heartbreaking.”
Adepo, whose character Sidney also comes to Hollywood with big dreams, also finds a bit of heartbreak when he wonders if he’s wanted in the industry for his talent or if he’s being used. Adepo said playing character Sidney Palmer came with “responsibility.”
“There was a tenderness that I tried to bring to Sidney of his eyes wide open and experiencing this for the first time and being like, ‘Yeah, maybe I can be somebody,’ but then feeling like I’m just a pawn in this grand scheme of things and I don’t think that my heart will let me handle it,” he said.
Calva’s experience playing Manny Torres involved acting opposite Robbie, who played Manny’s love interest and aspiring actress Nellie LaRoy. Calva said that Manny falls in love with Nellie because of her confidence in her ability to make it big.
“I think her essence…that’s a moment for him [because] he wanted to have that kind of confidence…both are dreamers, both want the the same thing, both are outsiders, but that kind of energy makes Manny fall in love right away,” he said.
Robbie called her character “relentless.”
“She demands your attention all the time. It was a challenge because you meet her at the craziest party you’re ever going to see and she’s the craziest person at the craziest party, and that’s the start of the movie, and it escalates from there,” she said.
However, there are moments in the film where you see the person underneath the wild drive.
“…There were small pockets of time where you get to something else to her and not always being [at] that relentless energy, party thing,” she continued. “And also, she’s talented, she’s a talented actor so it was fun to get to have that moment where you see her know that she’s on set and is working and other people appreciate that too.”
Watch the full interviews below. Babylon is in theaters Friday.